Category Archives: Wood Shop

No Sweat Fret

On the first two guitars I built, when it came time to install the frets in the slots I had so carefully sawed into the finger board, I did it the old fashioned (and cheap) way. I fabricated some hardwood blocks with one edge slightly curved to match the radius I had sanded onto the finger board, and then, using a dead blow hammer on the blocks, I carefully pounded each fret home. It was tedious and time consuming.

For the PotatoCaster I used my new fret press. I say new, but I have actually had it for a couple of years. It just hasn’t been used until now. (What can I say? My guitar building goes in spurts.) Let me tell you, That thing is a revelation. It turned a frustrating 2-hour job into a 15 or 20 minute piece of cake. Check it out.


I took 11 photos of this neck and still this is the best I can do. There is something about the way the ebony absorbs the light while at the same time the nickel silver frets and hard maple reflect it that my shitty old phone camera just doesn’t like. I could have broken out the old Sony Cyber-Shot and probably done better, but that would have meant finding the damned thing, and then charging the battery, and I just couldn’t be arsed.

Anyway, as you can see, the shaping on the neck is pretty much complete. I mostly just need to file and burnish the ends of those frets, do a little final sanding, and this baby will be ready for a few coats of clear lacquer. Then it’s on to the part I’ve been dreading, finishing the body. I just know I am going to fuck that up. Maybe I can come up with a small Christmas gift-exchange project to do first, and put it off until after the new year.

Shop Notes

Things have been pretty busy at the salt mine lately, leaving me too tired in the evenings to get much done in the old wood shop. On my days off… well, the weather has been good, and I’m trying to get enough miles on the scoot to get the 12K maintenance done before it gets too cold.

What work I have done in the shop is not production work. An unwritten — but nevertheless binding — rule for anyone that has a workshop of any kind is that shop projects always come first. It was therefore mandatory that I put aside the electric guitar project and upgrade my router table. Check it out.


I had to save my allowance for a long time to get that cast iron table top. I had to rebuild the base cabinet to fit the new top, so I added a couple of small drawers for router bits. I also added a new fence from Woodpeckers and an Incra crank-up router lift, all of which means I am now broke, but very happy with the new setup. It should be awesome for future projects, and it has the added psychological benefit of not being blood-stained.

So now that things have calmed down a bit at work, I am ready to get back on the PotatoCaster. I finally fumbled my way to a peg head shape I could live with, and I have constructed the hard maple neck and added the ebony finger board. Here it is in rough form.


Now comes the hard work of shaping it by hand. It’s all files and scrapers and sandpaper from here, many hours of work. My shoulders are already tired (hence the blogging break), and I’ve only just begun. I’m still trying to decide whether to leave the ebony natural, with the brown areas showing, or dye it solid black. I like the streaky look, but maybe not for this black ‘n’ blue-themed project.

PotatoCaster 1.2

I’m gradually getting back into my wood shop. My franken-fingers don’t hurt much at all any more unless I bang them pretty hard or put too much pressure on them. Most of the time they just feel kinda numb/tingly, which makes picking up small things a bit of a challenge, but otherwise they aren’t interfering with my day-to-day activities much at all.

Lately it has been the heat and humidity that have kept me from getting much work done. It usually doesn’t take long before the combination of sawdust sticking to me and sweat dripping onto the wood drives me out of the shop and into the pool. I have made a smattering of progress on the electric guitar I had begun before the incident. Check it out.


I assumed building the solid-body electric would be a good deal less challenging than the acoustics I have built before, and I guess in many ways it is. But, in addition to the whole getting my fingers tangled in my tools thing, I have discovered other paths to ruinous error. Witness the two pieces of wood at the top of this photo. PotatoCasters 1.0 and 1.1 died aborning, taking about forty bucks worth of hard maple with them.

At least those dead carcasses will give me something on which to practice my finishing skills. My plan — my vision — is to first stain the body with a black dye, then sand it back almost to bare wood again, leaving only the wood grain dark. Next, I will spray on a couple of coats of blue-tinted clear lacquer followed by several coats of just clear. The idea is to produce an appearance of depth in the finish, with the darkened grain showing through. I’ve never tried it before, so the odds are good that I will fuck it up. If it all goes to hell on me, I will just paint the damned thing and claim that was my plan all along.

That bridge is still a good distance down the road, though. I need to fabricate and fit a neck before I can finish anything, and you can’t tell from the photo, but that body needs a lot of sanding. Right now I’m kinda stuck on designing a peghead. Since I went with a non-traditional body shape, I wanted to do something different with the peghead as well, but it’s not working out too well. It’s almost like I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m just flying by the seat of my pants here. Hmm…

Yo Soy El Mas Macho

Yesterday, I visited the enhanced interrogation specialist hand surgeon again. He looked at my scab covered Franken-fingers for a few seconds and said they were doing well. Then he stood up and left the room, stating he needed to do some “housekeeping.” He came back momentarily with a little package of tools and proceeded to peel off all the remaining scabs! Anything that stuck up or gave him too much resistance, he just snipped off with a little pair of scissors. I just smiled and said “What else you got, Doc?” Here is a photo I took earlier today.


Believe me when I say they feel every bit as raw and sore as they look. And oh so sensitive. The slightest touch sends chills down my spine; a bump weakens my knees. The good news is, the surgeon has agreed to let me return to work on light duty beginning tomorrow. I may actually be able to salvage a couple of vacation days for a motorcycle ride later this year.

But that’s not what I came to talk about. See that piece of wood my hand is resting on in the photo? That’s the guitar body I was working on when my router tried to eat that hand. Did you notice how smooth the edges are? That’s right, I finished that job. Granted, I had to have a little lie-down afterwards, and I fucked it up and will have to re-make the whole thing, but I got back on that horse. I’m optimistic that my new normal — however far away that still is — may not be too much different from my old normal. I would cross my fingers, but… you know.

Feeling The Healing

It’s slow going, but my Franken-fingers are getting better. On my last visit, the hand surgeon removed the stitches, which hurt, but not unbearably. Then he took a pair of tweezers and started pulling at the scabs, snatching off anything that was slightly loose. That hurt quite a lot, but I am proud to say I did not have to lie down and suck on a lollipop. It was close, though.

I woke up one morning a few days ago to a pleasant surprise. The overall pain level had dropped dramatically over night. The fingers are still very tender and extremely sensitive, but the constant, mind-numbing level of pain has receded dramatically. It’s hard to describe exactly. My fingers still feel like I hit them with a hammer, but they no longer feel like I hit them with a hammer and then set them on fire.

So, I’m off the pain meds for the most part, and able to move around and do stuff. Mornings are good, but by late afternoon I’m usually back on the couch holding an ice pack, especially if I accidentally bang the fingers into something. I think I may be able to go back to work in another week or two.

I’ve been cleaning my wood shop for the last few days. It’s a job that normally takes 2 or 3 hours, but gimps gonna gimp. Anyway, when I was vacuuming my router table, I discovered a small ball of grey yarn-like material with some hard lumps in it. It took me a moment to realize the material was part of the glove I was wearing when “the incident” occurred, and the lumps were pieces of my former fingernails with dried meat attached. Check it out.


Ghoulish or fascinating? Maybe a little of both.

Now that the hydrocodone haze has lifted I can think logically again. I can do math. The glove I was wearing has several nice clean cuts, spaced about a quarter-inch apart, in the rubber portion of the middle finger. If I extrapolate across the hole in the cloth portion, I can estimate that the router bit contacted my hand approximately 14 times. The bit was turning 21,000 RPM and it is a two-flute bit, so it was making 42,000 cuts per minute. That’s 700 cuts per second. Dividing 14 cuts by 700 cuts per second leaves 0.02 seconds.

So, according to my somewhat crude estimates, my fingers were only in the machine about 20 milliseconds. I’ve been telling people it happened in the blink of an eye, but according to the intertoobz, a blink takes about 100 milliseconds, so it actually happened 5 times faster than a blink. I doubt my pain reflexes are that fast, so I’m guessing I must have gotten some sort of lucky bounce off the bit when the guitar kicked back. Yeah. Lucky.

See, What Had Happened Was…

I’ve been anxiously awaiting delivery of a new set of jointer/planer blades. I ruined my old ones on the office project when one of the drawers I built came out about 1/16 of an inch too wide. Running a few brad nails across a $50 set of blades was not cheaper than building a new drawer, but it was a lot faster. Sometimes I make mistakes. I blame Michelle’s husband.

I needed the new blades so I could cut a couple of pieces off the maple plank pictured in my last post and join those together to create a single piece wide enough to make my guitar body. By planing both parts perfectly flat on the edge where the grain is closest together, the joint becomes strong and virtually invisible.

The next step is to place my template on the wood — with that new seam running right down the middle — and use the bandsaw to remove most of the excess material. Like this:


I mentioned above that Michelle’s husband sometimes causes me to make mistakes. One such mistake is visible here; I should have removed more of the excess material sticking out from the template, but, as evidenced by the burnt edges of the wood, my bandsaw blade is getting dull and was having a lot of trouble with that 2-inch thick hard maple.

Underneath that router table is mounted a Porter-Cable Model 7518 Variable Speed Router. It has a 3-1/4 horsepower motor, and, running at top speed for small diameter bits like this one, turns 21,000 RPM. That’s also a brand new high-carbon steel bit, so I knew a little extra 2-inch maple wouldn’t bog the router down, and it would be a lot faster than wrestling with the bandsaw.

In hindsight, I realize you should use a hand-held router for this task in case the bit digs into that excess wood and gets away from you. With the hand-held router, about the worst that can happen is getting the router yanked out of your hands. With the router table, there is a danger of the wood — with your hand on it — getting yanked into the bit. For the record, that really fucking hurts.

I will show you what it does to your glove first, and then the hand. If you don’t want to see it, don’t scroll down much farther. First, a good glove, ruined.


See those nice clean horizontal cuts in the rubber at the tip of the middle finger? The flesh underneath that rubber did not fare nearly as well. The emergency room doctor used the cringe-worthy term, avulsed. According to the Free Dictionary, avulse means to pull off or tear away forcibly. That pretty well sums it up.


That photo is actually considerably less gruesome than what I saw when I pulled that glove off. Fighting extreme pain and dizziness, I made it to my kitchen sink, bellowing for my wife the whole way. I rinsed the fingers, moved all the meat sorta into place, and wrapped a towel around them. I was right on the edge of passing out, but I realized my wife must be outside because she wasn’t responding to my manly bleating. I managed to open the slider and give one last yell before going down. My wife found me a pale, sweaty, bloody mess in the floor.

That was Thursday evening. The emergency room did a more professional rinse and wrap, and sent me home with a prescription and the phone number of a hand surgeon. I saw the hand surgeon Friday afternoon, and he has scheduled surgery for Monday. It’s going to be a long weekend of waiting to see how much of my fingers I get to keep. The hand surgeon seemed confident that I will keep my fingerprints, but the nail area is not going to be pretty

PotatoCaster 1.0

More than a year ago, I started planning an electric guitar build. As I have mentioned here before, I don’t play guitar, but I enjoy the challenge of instrument building from a woodworking viewpoint. It’s much more difficult than  — and provides a nice break from — the typical box building required for cabinets and furniture.

So, back when I originally conceived the idea, the first thing I did was purchase a couple of books on building electric guitars and read them. They did not inspire a lot of confidence. The next thing I did was invite myself over to my friend Larry’s house. He plays guitar, and owns a couple of the most popular styles: a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul. I took along paper and pencil, and while I drank his beer, I measured everything about those two guitars, and asked a bunch of boneheaded questions.

One of the things Larry told me was that he liked the thinner neck of the Strat for playing, but much preferred the sound of the Les Paul. So, lacking both experience and original ideas, I began my design there. My guitar would have the thin maple, bolt-on neck of a Fender Stratocaster, but incorporate the scale and humbucker pickups of the Gibson Les Paul.

The body of my guitar shall be thick like a Gibson, but made of hard maple instead of mahogany. Here it is so far:


It takes a little imagination to envision the finished product in that piece of maple, but if you squint really hard you can see it. The grain is dyed black and the clear coat has a blue tint to it. Can you see it?

You probably can see that I bought enough wood to make the body twice. There are two reasons for that. First, I just know I am going to fuck this up at least once, and second, I did some research on electric guitar body shapes, and since I couldn’t find anything definitive on whether any particular shape was better, I decided to come up with my own original design. Here are the front and back templates I have produced:


I based this design on amateur ergonomics. My own (non-player) idea of what would be comfortable to play. Right away I noticed that it came out shaped like a potato, and I’ve been calling it the PotatoCaster ever since. This thing has the potential to be really ugly. (Which may be why I shelved the project for a year.)

I may have to buy another piece of wood before it’s all said and done, but honestly, not knowing what I am doing is part of the fun of new projects. If it were all just routine, I would probably find another hobby.

Shop Notes

For all those months I spent working on the office project, the mistress of the estate has rewarded me with a half dozen 24-inch Bessey clamps. Check it:


Those would have been really handy on that office project, but the mistress, she don’t front nobody nothing. Nice addition to the shop, though. In the woodworking bidnez, you can never have too many clamps.

In the background you can see my latest project. I wanted to use up the scrap walnut left over from the office project, so I dug into my pile of rubbish and pulled out a picture of a dresser valet I cut from a SkyMall catalog 15 or 20 years ago and set to work. What’s a dresser valet, you ask? This is a dresser valet:


People less sophisticated than myself (and SkyMall) might call it a jewelry box for men. It’s a place to put the all the stuff I empty from my pockets every day. It has a drawer for bigger stuff, and the flip-up lid in front of my wallet and phone reveals a shallow area for smaller stuff. (SkyMall suggested cufflinks, but mine is full of sugar-free wild cherry flavored Life Savers.)

I ended up making three of these, because that’s how much wood I had, and it worked out well. One for myself and one for each of my sons. They came out okay for a first effort. I know I could do a much better job given a second go at it, especially if I were to do it right now, but that’s not how I roll. I’ll move on to do a mediocre job on something new and different. I might get going on that electric guitar I’ve been planning for a couple of years now. I could put it with the two acoustics I’ve already built that I don’t know how to play.

Me Complete You

I’ve been trying to get a decent picture of my now completed office project. To show the details best, I need a good, sunny day so I can use the natural light coming through the window, but the weather is just not cooperating. It’s been cloudy here in Misery for days. We got 4 or 5 inches of snow yesterday, with more possible in the coming days. Our Winter has been mild so far, but it is well and truly upon us now.

Because of my ongoing back problems, the couple of weeks of work needed to complete this project ended up taking almost two months. About an hour on my feet is still all I can handle right now. The physical therapy provides some relief, but so far it only lasts a couple of hours. Right now, my plan is to continue therapy until the $20 co-pays start to hurt worse than the back pain.

Anyway, here is the best photo I could produce. It doesn’t satisfy my vision since using the flash creates a lot of glare and shadows, but it will have to do because I’m tired of dicking around with this Sony Cyber-Shot. I’m not a photographer, dammit, I’m a craftsman.


To better accommodate the cleaning staff here on the estate, I’ve added a shelf and some hooks underneath the desk to get the UPS and various wires up off the floor. Above the desk, I’ve added a removable raised panel in the corner to conceal most of the wiring, fabricated custom cork boards to fill the wall space to the left and right, and installed LED under-cabinet lighting. The last major piece, and by far the most time-consuming, was the post office/secretary thingie on the left.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how this came out, and the mistress of the house seems pleased as well. Of course, she hasn’t seen the final tally I just calculated from this fat folder full of receipts; $6746.90 and she still hasn’t bought a chair.

Coming Along

The latest photo of my office project shows the importance of the trim work. As you can see, I’ve installed the crown moulding and base trim, and it really gives the whole thing a finished look.


I’m working on the cork board wall behind the desk while waiting on my wood supplier to restock the 1/2-inch thick walnut I need to build the post office/storage thingamajig I have drawn up. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am so very ready to go back to smaller projects I can finish in a weekend or two.